May 18, 2021

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Top Biden national security officials to brief lawmakers on Afghanistan Tuesday

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Secretary of State Tony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley will discuss the situation with members of both the House and Senate.

The high-level, closed-door briefing comes after President Joe Biden announced last week that the United States would withdraw all remaining troops from the country by September 11.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed to CNN that “the Secretary will be taking part in briefings today on Afghanistan for all House and Senate Members.”

A US official confirmed Milley and Austin’s attendance at the briefings.

Afghanistan withdrawal will likely dismantle a CIA intelligence network built up over 20 years

CNN has reached out the Office of the Director of National Intelligence for comment.

Biden announced last Wednesday that the US would end its military mission in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years, noting that the reasons for keeping a military footprint in the country have become “increasingly unclear” over the past decade. Following the President’s announcement, NATO said it would also bring its military mission in Afghanistan to an end.

On Tuesday, the top US general for the Middle East told the House Armed Services Committee that he would report to Austin “by the end of the month” with options for maintaining the ability to conduct counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US forces.

“We’re examining this problem with all of our resources right now to find a way to do it, in the most intelligent, risk-free manner that we can,” CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said.

McKenzie said he didn’t want to “put on rose-colored glasses and say it’s going to be easy to do,” but that “the US military can do just about anything.”

Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining troops from Afghanistan has been met with a mixed reaction from members of Congress. Some lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have expressed disappointment at the move — which was announced before the Taliban and Afghan government have reached any sort of political settlement — fearing it could imperil gains by women and civil society in Afghanistan.

On Monday, US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, who spearheaded diplomatic efforts under both the Trump and Biden administrations, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs David Helvey, and members of the intelligence community briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the decision.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, the chairman of the committee, told reporters following the classified briefing that he got some clarity on the decision but still had questions about the decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and the “contingency planning” for various scenarios once the US leaves.

“President Biden got dealt a very difficult hand. There are no good solutions to the challenge of Afghanistan. But there are serious questions,” Menendez told reporters. “After 20 years of blood and national treasure, the question is still in my mind, how do we ultimately ensure the Taliban cannot run over the Afghan government and potentially create it as a place for terrorist attacks to take place? How do we preserve the rights of Afghan women in civil society that have been achieved?”

He said he was planning hold a public hearing on the withdrawal decision.

Khalilzad, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Amanda Dory, Vice Admiral Lisa Franchetti, and Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Mission Integration Morgan Muir will also be on the Hill on Tuesday, according to a congressional source.

CNN’s Kylie Atwood and Michael Conte contributed to this report.

2021-04-20 12:39:21

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